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Congress in Maharashtra: Ready for battle with BJP or still stuck in factionalism?

A section of leaders is pointing out that the party is not aggressive against the Fadnavis government in the state

mumbai Updated: Jun 26, 2018 00:34 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Maharashtra,Congress party
Mallikarjun Kharge has been selected to lead the Congress party in Maharashtra(HT Photo)

Though it was being talked about for quite some time in the state’s Congress circles, the party leadership has finally replaced the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of Maharashtra, Mohan Prakash. Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge will supervise party’s affairs in Maharashtra in place of Prakash who was handling the responsibility for about eight years.

The decision has come soon after the party’s defeat in Palghar Lok Sabha byelection. It has now led to speculations in the Congress in Maharashtra: Will there be a large scale reshuffle of the party organization in the run-up to the elections?

Maharashtra was always considered as a Congress bastion till the party suffered a massive defeat during the Modi wave in 2014. In the Lok Sabha elections, the party could win only two out of 48 seats (even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won four). Six months later in the assembly elections, the party not just lost the power but also posted its worst-ever performance. In a four-cornered election, its tally came down to 42 from 82 in 2009.

Now as the Congress top brass is preparing for the next Lok Sabha elections, Maharashtra is significant in their calculations. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had together 42 out of 48 seats in 2014 and the Congress leaders are hopeful that this number will reduce considerably in 2019 and help them prevent the BJP from repeating its performance in last Lok Sabha polls.

In a bid to revive the party after its 2014 defeat, the party leadership had appointed former chief minister Ashok Chavan (who had led the party to power in 2009) as the state unit chief. In the past two years, Chavan has been rebuilding the party organisations across the state. He has also taken an initiative to build a coalition of like-minded parties including NCP and several smaller parties such as Samajwadi Party and Peasants and Workers Party. However, not everybody in the party is happy with him. A section of Maharashtra Congress leaders is pointing out that the party is not getting aggressive against the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state. There have been a number of issues because of which people are unhappy with the Modi and Fadnavis governments but the party’s Maharashtra unit has failed to capitalize on the same, they say. Further, the legislative unit of the party led by Opposition Leader in the assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil is a complete failure as it has not been able to corner the ruling parties, they point out.

“Some top leaders are not taking aggressive stance against the Fadnavis government as they have skeletons in their cupboards,”says a disgruntled leader who did not want to be named. “Further, they are under the impression that the arithmetic will be in their favour in the elections due to the Congress-NCP alliance and as such, wresting power from the BJP won’t be difficult in Maharashtra.”

This would be the biggest mistake as the BJP is much ahead of the Congress in terms of planning and election management now, the disgruntled leaders insist. With the possibility of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in the state, elections will be tough for the Congress-NCP alliance, they add.

On the other hand, Chavan’s aides insist that the party is on the right track and it would raise issues against the government aggressively in the coming days. With barely a year before the Lok Sabha elections, the party leadership would not upset the team that is preparing for the elections, they say.

So will the party leadership go for large scale changes in the organizational set-up or make all factions come together to win back its bastion from the BJP?

That is likely to be the first problem Kharge will have to solve as he takes over the supervision of Maharashtra Congress.

First Published: Jun 26, 2018 00:28 IST